According to a survey by Prime Consulting for the Lithuanian magazine Veidas, 48% of Lithuanians may vote against the construction of the planned Visaginas nuclear power plant in a referendum in October, while 19% support the construction. The poll, conducted in the country’s largest cities among 500 people on July 16-17, didn’t provide a margin of error.
Lithuania will hold the referendum on October 14 along with the general election (see In Brief, Nuclear Monitor 753, 3 August 2012) in which the ruling center-right coalition is widely expected to be ousted from office. Prime Consulting’s poll suggest that Lithuania’s Social Democrats – who originally called for the vote on Visaginas complaining that details on the project remain too scarce after earlier supporting the plan to build the plant – are most likely to lead the next government.
Andrei Ozharovsky, a nuclear physicist and industry expert with Bellona in Russia pointed out that previous polls had indicated a 65 percent public opposition to the plant. A 50% plus one vote against the plant with a 50 percent voter turn out will be required to scuttle the plant, he said.
The figures from the polls suggest that Hitachi, the strategic investor on the Visaginas plant, may have a dark cloud cast over its plans to enter the construction phase: With the referendum coinciding with the general election, turn out is expected to be robust. But a statement released to Bellona by Hitachi in the European Union remained optimistic in an August 8, email interview with Bellona that the polls do not reflect Lithuanian public opinion. “We believe that all main political parties in Lithuania do not object to the nuclear power plant in Visaginas and that many Lithuanian people support the project. They understand that the nuclear power plant is necessary to ensure energy security of the region.”
The country’s lawmakers approved the July referendum proposal despite Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius calling for parliament to reject the initiative because it is “not necessary.” In June, Lithuanian parliament approved an agreement which provides the contractual frame-work for Visaginas. The government had planned to sign an agreement with strategic investor Hitachi to proceed with engineering and preparation work. “At this stage Hitachi wants to set up the project company as soon as possible and we expect this can be done before the referendum,” Hitachi’s statement to Bellona said. A final investment decision on whether or not to go ahead with the project is expected in 2015, NucNet reported, and the plant would be opera-tional by 2020-2022.
Visaginas is also failing to find a niche in a small region where two other nuclear power plants are planned –Belarusian NPP in the city of Ostrovets, and Baltic NPP, to be built in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, wedged between the Baltic state and mainland Russia. The site slated for the Visaginas plant is a mere 2.3 kilometers from the Belarusian border and water for the plants cooling systems is to come from Lake Drisvyaty, a water body that straddles the borders of both countries. In a rare union, both the Belarusian government and Bela-rusian environmental group are against the Visaginas plant. This is could ramp up yet more political tit for tat between Vilnius and Minsk: Lithuania has been vociferously opposed to Belarus NPP on the grounds that Minsk has submitted insufficient proof that its plant will be safe.
Source: Bellona, 8 August 2012